Convincing evidence for macroevolution exists, which is why I do not berate evolutionists for their beliefs. If I were agnostic and listening to an erudite evolutionist, I might say, “Thou hast almost convinced me to become an evolutionist.” One example of impressive evidence for evolution across life forms is the discovery of Tiktaalik.
Tiktaalik is a northern native Canadian name for freshwater fish. This creature supposedly lived 365 million years ago. Its discovery in 2004 created quite a stir, not so much for its fossilized structure, but for the manner in which it was discovered.
More than a decade ago, Edward Daeschler, Neil Shubin, and Jennifer Clack decided that the best place to look for an elusive transitional fossil bridging the divide between fish and tetrapods was in Nunavut in northern Canada. This region, although now in the Arctic Circle, was once thought to be near the equator and to have a warm climate. So in 1999 they sent research teams to Ellesmere Island (77° 3'37.23"N; 88° 5'52.40"W) to look for transitional fossils in an area where an intermediate animal would most likely be found.
After 5 years of digging with little success, the researchers discovered what they had been looking for: a fossilized fish-tetrapod looking animal. The animal had characteristics similar to a fish but with skeletal characteristics akin to a crocodile. Its skeletal structure enabled it to support itself on land and water, and the presence of spiracles (small holes) on its flat head suggests that the animal had primitive lungs, in addition to gills.
The researchers’ hypothesis was confirmed. It is an amazing discovery.
Notwithstanding the impressiveness of this discovery, it does not rise to the level of what we might call definitive scientific evidence because it was not a crucial test of macroevolution. What is a crucial test? Let’s consider a brief example from Relativity.
When Einstein introduced his theories of Special Relativity and Relativity in the early 1900s, his ideas created a stir. Back then Newton was still revered as the undisputed champion of science and the thought of anyone challenging Newton’s ideas was considered heretical. However Einstein boldly challenged Newton’s ideas. He argued that space and time are not constant as Newton had supposed; rather space and time differed based on one’s state (hence the name “relativity”).
Searching for ways to test Einstein’s theory, scientists decided to study the light from stars next to a fully eclipsed sun. If Einstein was right then the sun’s gravity well would cause the light from ‘nearby’ stars to bend and thus appear shifted in the dark sky. And so in 1919 a British research team headed by Sir Arthur Eddington went on a distant journey to view a solar eclipse on Principe Island near the coast of Guinea in West Africa.
It was cloudy during the days leading up to the eclipse and a heavy thunderstorm rolled through the team's location on the morning of the much anticipated event (May 29th). The research expedition was in jeopardy of failing, nevertheless Eddington and his team set up their instruments and hoped for a miracle. Minutes before the eclipse when the sky was still overcast, anxieties grew as the moon moved in front of the sun and the sky darkened. Then suddenly, before the eclipse reached totality, the clouds parted revealing the corona of the sun and surrounding stars. The team quickly snapped their photos.
The photos revealed that light from ‘nearby’ stars (in the Hyades star cluster) had indeed shifted, as Einstein predicted. The sun’s gravitational pull shifted the position of the stars an average distance of 1.6 arcseconds. Like Tiktaalik, it was an amazing discovery.
The Crux of the Matter
Tiktaalik’s discovery provides reasonable evidence for accepting macroevolution, and Eddington’s eclipse study provides reasonable evidence for accepting Relativity, but the quality of evidence from these two studies are not on par. The essential difference is that one was a crucial experiment and the other was not.
A crucial experiment is one where a “do or die” scenario is set up that allows us to tentatively decide on the truth or falsity of a theory. Relativity was subjected to a do or die test and it survived. The bending of starlight around the eclipsed sun allowed us to ascertain with a great deal of certainty that Einstein was right. If the light had not bent, we would have had good reason to conclude that Einstein was wrong and we might still be going with Newton’s theory.
Tiktaalik, although an important and impressive discovery, was not a crucial test of macroevolution. By this I mean that Tiktaalik did not create a situation where the theory of macroevolution was subjected to a “do or die” scenario. If the Ellesmere research team had never discovered Tiktaalik then the theory of macroevolution would not have been any worse off. Explanations would have included, “Well, we’re not looking in the right place,” or “We just have to keep looking.”
The quality of scientific evidence hinges, among other things, on the possibility of finding something false. Scientific theories that have been repeatedly subjected to crucial tests and survived have earned the status of being proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Those that have not been subjected to crucial tests, like macroevolution, have not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This suggests that people can reasonably reject macroevolutionary explanations for the origins of humanity.
Which one of the following statements is true?
A. Humans can catch and get sick from computer viruses
B. Some computers are sentient, self-aware, and self-reproducing life forms.
C. Text, audio, and picture files can be stored on and retrieved from DNA.
D. Scientists in Poland are developing warp core technology that will allow near-light speed travel.
If you think all of them sound impossible, you are right. The fact that one of them is a reality makes the discovery all the more impressive. The correct answer is C.
Scientists at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, England encoded information by sequencing the four main nucleobasis of DNA: adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine (A, T, C, G). They encoded 26 seconds of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a digital photo of their lab, 154 Shakespearean sonnets, and the 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick paper describing the double-helical structure of DNA. The scientists were then able to retrieve the information with 100% accuracy.
There’s more. DNA-based memory can last for thousands of years as long as it is stored in the proper environment. I guess it will probably outlive the information stored on my CDs, Bluray DVDs, and flash drives. There’s more. One gram of single-stranded DNA can store 2.2 Petabytes of information. There are about 1 million gigabytes in 1 petabyte. So that means that one gram of single-stranded DNA can hold roughly the equivalent of 275,000 8 gigabyte jump drives, or 100 Billion DVDs.
The recent discovery of the amazing storage and recovery capacity of DNA suggests that humans have the capacity to remember all of life’s events, thoughts and feelings. The idea that we have the capacity to perfectly remember everything in life is consistent with LDS theology.
Notwithstanding the marvelous storage capacity of DNA, I think there is a retrieval bug in my system somewhere that keeps me forgetting where I put my keys. Oh well, I can live with a retrieval bug as long as I never unintentionally hit the “reformat DNA hard drive” switch.
When I was a missionary I was district leader over 6 sister missionaries. The sisters were kind and effective missionaries, but they got this idea that they could get along well without me and my companion. They didn’t need those two younger, immature boys guiding them at district meetings. They were right. They could have gotten along well without me and my companion. They tried to start what become known as the infamous “Sister District,” a district for sisters and run by sisters. While I never promoted the idea, I was fine with it.
Mission president said “No.”
Church organizations are run a certain way. With the exception of RS and Primary, they are run by priesthood holders, and even those run by sisters are guided by priesthood holders.
If a business were structured the way the Church leadership is structured, it would face legal action for not promoting gender equality in leadership positions. But the Church is not a business. It is a religious organization lead by prophets and apostles who receive direction from the Lord. The Lord in His perfect understanding and infinite wisdom has structured the Church the way it is. We need to remind ourselves that His ways are not our ways.
So sisters wearing pants to church sounds like an interesting idea, but we would be remiss to think that doing so will promote sisters to Church leadership positions typically filled by men. In the same vein, no amount of pressure from gay organizations will make the Church accept gay marriages. The Lord is calling the shots on leadership and doctrine, not man (or women).
Have you ever wondered about the mental capacities of animals? Can we know which behaviors result from thinking and which behaviors are caused by instinct?
The other day I discussed our cat’s smarts with my daughter Brooklyn. Ever since she was a kitten, our Felis silvestris catus (that is her Latin name) has relieved herself in the litter box 100% of the time. Except for when she ate foam and got sick, she has gone in the right location every time! Should I also expect her to barf in the litter box? Well, we humans rarely make it to the porcelain throne when we throw up, so I will cut her some slack on that one.
Anyway, I told Brooklyn that I think our cat is smart. Our cat may think something like: “I gotta go and don’t want to mess up this nice carpet. Where is my litter box?” Come to think of it, if she relieved herself in a conspicuous location of the house and no one found out for weeks, wouldn’t that be a sign of smarts? At the same time, however, I said that her Freudian cleanliness may be due to instinct. She may think nothing at all and just instinctively run off to her litter box.
I am not certain of my cat’s cognitive abilities, but like so many pet owners, I am certain that animals experience joy. Watching my boyhood German shepherd burst into joyous tail wagging, bouncing, and spinning when she spotted me coming home from school, it was pretty clear to me that dogs feel joy. Some dogs even smile, and not just those in photoshopped funny dog pictures. The endowment creation video even tells us that animals feel joy.
If animals feel joy, can they also express gratitude? Can they display overt behaviors that are intended as expressions of thanks? I don’t know, but this heartwarming video of a freed whale comes as close to any display of gratitude as I’ve ever seen. Sure the whale is happy, but that it went on with jumping and tail wagging for an hour in the presence of those who saved its life seems to indicate gratitude. The person who saved its life comments on the possibility of gratitude at 7:09.
Fifteen years ago when I first heard about genetically modified food I thought, “Oh! They are messing with the genetics of our fruits and vegetables to make them bigger and better tasting.” It didn't seem so bad at the time. Genetic modification may have started with such good intentions, but sixteen years later after genetically modified foods first hit the market in 1996, it has become a dark and dangerous industry. Its deeds are probably far worse than most people could have imagined.
Food crops are being genetically modified so that they are resistant to Roundup, that broad spectrum herbicide that kills most living plants. Why do people want to make food crops resistant to Roundup? The answer is that they want to dump the stuff on crops so that farmers do not have to worry about weeds.
Roundup resistant crops, called Roundup ready crops, are being sprayed with the herbicide, harvested and processed, and then delivered to your local grocery store. Should you be concerned? Yes. There are copious amounts of data pointing to health concerns with this practice, data that the FDA is apparently ignoring. While we are on the topic of big organizations, you might also find it interesting that the company that manufactures Roundup, Monsanto, is heavily invested in the production of genetically modified seeds. It should come as no surprise that Monsanto is also ignoring data suggesting that Roundup ready food crops pose a health hazard.
With the FDA and USDA apparently in bed with big business (i.e., Monsanto) on this issue, the only avenue for change is the American consumer. We need to demand labeling of genetically modified foods so that, by choosing not to purchase these products, we can force the food producers to change their ways. In recent years consumers demanded labeling of milk products produced from rBGH-injected dairy cattle, a hormone that should never have been used in cattle and which our governmental agencies failed to protect us from. Now many consumers are opting to purchase only rBGH-free dairy products and the practice of injecting the hormone in cattle is quickly going out of style. We need to do the same with Roundup ready food crops.
Here is more information on how Roundup ready crops are sickening Americans and what you can do to protect your family.
The basic message of my last post, Do You Believe in Evolution, is that to study evolution, and any other secular theory for that matter, is good if one hearkens unto the counsels of the Lord. Those who fail to hearken unto the Lord’s counsels while studying evolution are prone to fall into personal apostasy.
For those wondering what it is like to fall into personal apostasy because of a failure to hearken unto the counsels of the Lord while studying evolution, here’s a short video clip. The clip shows renowned evolutionists Richard Dawkins describing how evolution was the catalyst that turned him from a believer into a non-believer, beginning at time 1:30 and ending at 2:02.
For an example of hearkening unto the counsels of the Lord while accepting evolution, take a look at this short video of another famous scholar, Francis Collins. Collins became a believer after studying evolution and achieving fame in the scientific community. Collins is the former director of the Human Genome Project and NIH director. Collins is now a theistic evolutionist. While I differ with some of his views on the creation, I admire him for having the courage to accept his spiritual witness for what it was – a testimony of God’s existence. He describes his spiritual journey in his NY Times best seller, The Language of God (a good read). In this video, note how he explains that an innate sense of right and wrong, the Light of Christ, was the catalyst for his eventual acceptance of God.
Most of us are familiar with the words of the primary song, “Follow the Prophet.” The beat of this song sounds like a military cadence which, when repeatedly played, drives home the message that we should obey the teachings of the prophets. The analogy between primary and the military may be a bit much, but the message is clear: follow the prophet or you might go down the road of personal apostasy.
In my association with scholars and academics, there is no straighter road to personal apostasy than embracing tents of a theory that contradicts the teachings of the gospel. I am not suggesting that everyone who embraces contradictory theories is in the throes of personal apostasy. I do think, however, that the road to apostasy lies open before them. If they chose not to go down the path and keep the commandments of God, then all is well. Unfortunately, too many choose to walk down the path and end up questioning gospel beliefs.
Personal enticements to apostasy are everywhere. Interestingly, things that lead to apostasy are not necessarily bad. Sometimes they are good. Take, for example, the internet, television, and other modern technologies. Doing family history work on the New Family Search website in the comfort of our own homes is a blessing, as is watching general conference on television in our pajamas on Sunday morning. But when people misuse the blessings of television and the internet, those blessings become a curse in their lives.
Education is a great blessing, but it can also be a curse. When does secular learning become a curse? When it leads Christians to question teachings of the gospel. The Lord’s counsel is as follows: to be learned is good, if one hearkens unto the counsels of God. So study the theories of mankind. Acquire as much secular knowledge as you can. Do personal research into a secular hypothesis. Those are good things, as long as you hearken unto the counsels of God while acquiring knowledge.
Let’s take evolution, for example. Now there’s an important theory. I’ve been told that it is a fundamental theory underlying most of biology, so it must be a good thing to learn. I can think of a healthcare application. Given the rate at which pathogens like viruses and bacteria are mutating and circumventing our ability to prevent and fight off diseases, it is really important that we have a good understanding of evolution.
For some people it is important to study evolution in order to have a better understanding of the origins of species, you know, how we descended from ape ancestors. Although I find such endeavors meaningless, it is important to others. Even a Mormon can research the origins of species; that’s fine, as long as he or she hearkens unto the counsels of God.
So, what are the counsels of the Lord on the theory of common descent? Let’s take a look at what the living prophets say.
Here is counsel from a living apostle, Elder Nelson.
“Others have deduced that, because of certain similarities between different forms of life, there has been a natural selection of the species or organic evolution from one form to another. . . . To me, such theories are unbelievable. . . . It is incumbent upon each informed and spiritually attuned person to help overcome such foolishness of those who would deny divine creation or think that man simply evolved.” Source: The Power Within Us
I find it interesting that Elder Nelson encourages informed and spiritually attuned members to help overcome beliefs that contradict divine creation.
And here is a comment from the current president of the quorum of twelve apostles, Elder Packer.
"The rules and principles [of creation] are in the scriptures. The revelations make it very clear that mankind is the offspring of Heavenly Parents. We have in God our Father and a Heavenly Mother the pattern of our parentage. . . . No lesson is more manifest in nature than that all living things do as the Lord commanded them in the Creation. They reproduce after their own kind. They follow the pattern of their parentage. Everyone knows that. Every four-year-old knows that! A bird will not become an animal nor a fish. A mammal will not beget a reptile. . . . Each is a child of God. He is not a monkey; neither were his ancestors."
Source: Children of God. www.byub.org/talks/Download.aspx?id=1774&md=pdf
In my opinion, those who embrace common descent but do not follow the counsels of the Lord fall prey to godless notions about creation and morality and end up in the atheistic camp. On the other hand, those who embrace common descent while following the counsels of the Lord often end up in the theistic evolutionary camp. And finally, those who of us who reject common descent while following the counsels of the Lord end up in the “we really don’t understand science” camp, or at least that is what I’ve been told by ardent evolutionists.
Now I realize that many of you readers fall into the “I couldn’t care less”, “It doesn’t matter to me”, or the “I wasted my time reading this blog post” camps. (Apologies sent.) Whatever camp you fall into, just remember to follow the counsels of the Lord - if you do, you won’t go astray, regardless of your evolutionary beliefs.
Sometime in the not too distant future when the sun appears darkened, the moon pale red, and the seas are heaving beyond their bounds, a fascinating astronomical phenomenon will appear in the eastern sky.
It will first appear as a small, distant light. Astronomers will turn their telescopes toward the light source. They will not be able to positively identify the object, but many will surmise that it is a natural astronomical phenomenon. Scientists will speculate wildly over the cause of the light source, especially as they notice it growing larger overtime. I think that most people will identify it as a comet on a collision course with earth.
Among all the scientific speculation on the cause of the light source, there are some who will know the cause and meaning of the light source, not because they are privy to secret scientific information or because they are good guessers. They will know the cause of the light source because they read their scriptures and/or the teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith, and they know the signs of the coming of the Lord.
Like the righteous Nephites who knew that the new star in the heavens and the brightness of the sky at the going down of the sun portended the birth of Jesus, the righteous will know that the light in the east is a sign of the coming of the Lord. And like the wicked Nephites who dismissed the new star and extended day as unusual astronomical phenomena with some natural cause, proud scientists will search for naturalistic explanations and call the believers silly.
If all this isn’t weird enough for science, as the light grows in intensity, people will start vanishing from the earth. Two people will be waiting in line at a grocery store and one will suddenly disappear. “Where did she go?” a frustrated clerk will say, pointing to a cart full of frozen food. “She just left her groceries sitting there!” And two people will be working side-by-side at a flour mill when one employee suddenly vanishes. “Where is he now?” a shift supervisor will bark. “Another coffee break!?”
Science will be hard pressed to explain these disappearances. I imagine scholars will be conjuring up theories of spontaneous combustion or being sucked into a subspace portal due to a passing black hole. The righteous will be the only ones being taken from the earth, and they will not fear for they shall know why they are being taken from the earth - to meet the Lord Jesus Christ.
What happens next will be interesting. The atmosphere will get very hot and the earth will begin to burn like an oven. I imagine that proud scholars who mocked the Lord with allusions of flying spaghetti monsters and boasted in their atheistic doctrines of creation will proclaim, as they point toward the large light source, “We were right - It is a comet!” In their final breath, they will be wrong. They will not be burned by a comet; they will be burned by the presence of the Lord and celestialized beings in whose presence they cannot survive.
After the earth is cleansed by fire, the Lord, celestialized beings, and the righteous who were caught up to meet the Lord will arrive upon a renewed, telestialized earth. Thus will begin a thousand years of righteousness and a new era of science that is in complete harmony with the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Many Latter-day Saints are familiar with the first law of thermodynamics. It is the law of conservation of energy which states that energy can be transformed, but never created nor destroyed. But how many of us are familiar with the second law of thermodynamics? Probably not as many which is unfortunate because the second law provides rational, scientific-based evidence for the existence of
The second law of thermodynamics states that matter in a closed system such as the universe will move toward a more disorganized state assuming outside forces are not acting on the universe. If we assume that the universe is a closed system and that there is no god (outside force), then we should see disorder growing around us. But the net level of disorder in the universe does not appear to be increasing. It appears that the opposite is happening. With the exception of rare supernova, everywhere in space we see evidence of highly organized planetary and biological systems forming.
However, the second law of thermodynamics also states that disorder (entropy) may decrease in a closed system by chance alone. This means that star and planetary systems may organize without influence from an outside force (i.e., god). Atheists kind of like this part because it suggests that complex organization can occur without divine intervention. Now I argue that the chances of spontaneous complex organization (low entropy) occuring by chance are very slim, but in all fairness to atheists, as Jim Carey's character on Dumb and Dumber reminds us, even with extremely small odds, there's still a chance.
My point is that notwithstanding Dumb and Dumber's philosophy on rare events, the chances that such an event took place without divine intervention is so rare that I have to agree with Warwick University philosophy professor Roger Trigg who claimed that “It’s much simpler to believe in God who created the one universe, rather than saying . . . we just happened to . . . come up in this way [by chance].” I would add that as a member of the church, it is not only simpler to believe in a creator, it is more logical to believe in a creator from a faith-based perspective.
The Anthropic Principle (AP) concerns the relationship between the laws of nature and the presence of life. It basically asserts that if the laws of the universe were altered ever so slightly, life would not have come into existence.
Here are some examples.
"If the nuclear force were only a few percents weaker, then a proton could not combine with a neutron to form a deuteron. If this were the case, no deuterons would be formed in the sun and hence no solar fuel would exist. As a result, the sun would not shine (‘burn’), but would merely be a cold ball of inert gas—precluding the possibility of life on earth."
A slightly stronger gravity force would result in “a smaller universe of larger, brighter, shorter-lived stars, that will eventually collapse in on itself again in a Big Crunch. Most, if not all stars would be binary, trinary, or larger systems. Any planets orbiting these stars would have to go very fast to avoid a fiery demise inside their parent stars, and would be slung around wildly by their multiple suns. Any planetary system in this universe would be devoid of a stable, safe harbor for life, and relative stability is a vital prerequisite for the evolution of complex life forms. Life here would probably get to no more than amino acids, much less true life, before one of the planet’s parent stars went nova or the planet was torn apart and swallowed into one of the stars. It would not be a place to develop living creatures as complex as ourselves.”
There are different forms of the anthropic principle. The one form that most scholars agree upon is the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP). This principle claims that conditions in the universe are such that they allow life to exist. If this statement did not impress you it is probably because we already know that the conditions of the universe are such that they allow for life by virtue of the fact that we exist. Thus everyone, including atheists and believers, agrees with the WAP so it can’t really be used effectively to argue for the existence of deity.
Then there is the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP). The SAP basically states that because the universe must have certain properties for life to exist, and we exist, the universe was specifically designed or fine-tuned by a supreme being for the purpose of sustaining life. As a latter-day saint, I wholeheartedly accept the SAP premise, but it lacks rigor as an argument for the existence of deity with non-believers.
The problem with arguing that God lives because the universe we live in is fine-tuned for the existence of life is that we actually live in a universe that supports life. The very thing that gives rise to the argument for deity, namely a fine-tuned universe, also weakens the argument. Think of it this way. Imagine 5 universes where nature is fine-tuned to support human life. People in those 5 fine-tuned universes might marvel over the fact that their universes allow life to flourish, and some of them even propose a supreme being as their creator. Now imagine another 5 universes that are not fine-tuned to support life. In those universes no one is around to marvel over why their universes did not allow life to flourish because life cannot exist in them. A fine-tuned universe is all intelligent beings can ever know! So regardless of whether one is an atheist or a believer, there is amazement over the fact that life exists. To leverage this amazement by arguing that “therefore a supreme being must have created the universe,” carries little weight with atheists who are similarly amazed over the existence of our fine-tuned universe.
As a stand-alone rational argument for believing in deity, the weak and strong anthropic principles accomplish very little in the way of converting non-believers to the truth. But when coupled with the influence of the Spirit, anthropic arguments can suddenly make sense and facilitate conversion.